Top 10 astrophotography tips

Astrophotographers share their tips and tricks for taking the perfect astronomy photo...


1.     “Your only limit is your knowledge, not your wallet”

That is the advice of Diego Colonnello who produced the stunning astrophoto 'Tarantula Colours' (above). Ian Griffin would agree that taking a good astrophoto doesn't need to break the bank. He says:

“Don’t become obsessed by buying the most expensive equipment. Instead try and make the most of the kit you can afford. Learn how to focus accurately and try and think about the framing of every picture you take. It’s possible to take amazing pictures of the night with relatively inexpensive gear.”

Aurora Australis from SOFIA Flight Deck © Ian Griffin
Aurora Australis from SOFIA Flight Deck © Ian Griffin


2.    Don’t give up

Roger Hutchinson's 'Venus Phase Evolution' won 2017's Planets, Comets & Asteroids category. He says:

“Most people are inspired by the wonderful images they see on the internet or when visiting the IAPY exhibition and are keen to try to reproduce what they see from the start. However, those images are usually the result of years of practice and loads of failures, so perseverance is key.”

3.    Some astronomy knowledge helps

Michael Wilkinson's highly commended astrophoto depicts the Sun in a ghostly Calcium-K light. With a surface temperature of 5,500° C you need to be aware of the facts before photographing the Sun. Michael says:

“It certainly helps to understand some of the science, mainly in order not to roast your camera or, worse, your eyes. In narrow wavelength imaging, you need to understand which filter bands will allow you to see which phenomenon. You do not really need to understand the complex physics in order to take good images, however.”

Ghostly Sun © Michael Wilkinson
Ghostly Sun © Michael Wilkinson


4.    Know your camera

Jo Hunt has travelled to northern Iceland to capture the Aurora Borealis. Jo advises:

“When it's -15 degrees and dark, it’s best to know what button does what without having to constantly resort to the pesky head torch.”

5.    Stay warm and keep your night vision

Sophie Cordon advises budding astrophotographers: 

“...get good warm clothes and get to know your own gear in the daylight, for example manual focus, to learn to adjust the settings with no light and with mittens on... yes, that's possible!

I always try to adjust most settings at home before going out in the dark, so it's just small adjustments.

I also think it's a good idea to use a red light that helps you to see what you're doing without destroying your night vision.”

6.    Your mobile phone is your friend

Steve Brown explains how mobile phone apps help him with astrophotography:

“I don't really use any specific apps to take images apart from my phone's standard photography app. I've found this more than adequate for taking pictures at the eyepiece of my telescope of the Moon and Sun (with a filter on the scope of course for the latter).

I do use the Stellarium app to see what is in the sky on any given night and to plan my observations. I also use the Heaven's Above app to check when the ISS will be passing over and what Iridium flares are visible.”

7.    Be patient

Haitong Yu's 'Passage to the Milky Way' won 2017's Skyscapes category. Haitong advises:

“Don't hurry to set up the camera and take pictures at the first sight of the starry sky. Be sensitive and innovative, and imagine all kinds of possibilities before making up your mind to shoot.”

Passage to the Milky Way © Haitong Yu
Passage to the Milky Way © Haitong Yu

8.    Keep it real

Sean Goebel's astrophoto, 'Mauna Kea Moonset', was highly commended in the Our Moon category. Sean says:

“I want to encourage everyone to create photos that arereal. I understand the temptation to paste the Milky Way or a giant moon into the sky over a landscape, but it is infinitely more meaningful to capture that in an actual image. Getting the Moon or Milky Way in the location and size that you want requires planning, timing, cooperative weather, and respect for basic physics.”

9.    Learn from others

Mikkel Beiter's 'Ghost World' won 2017's Aurorae category. His message is simple:

“Get inspiration from other astrophotographers, it will teach you a lot.”

Join the Royal Observatory Astrophotography Facebook group

Ghost World © Mikkel Beiter
Ghost World © Mikkel Beiter

And finally…

10.  Don’t take advice too seriously!

Andriy Borovkov takes mind-blowing astrophotos of nebulae and galaxies. For Andriy, advice is not as useful as your own instinct:

“If I had concerned myself too much with advice from other people, I would have never started to do astrophotography inside a light polluted town.

It’s important to critically evaluate any tips you get from other people about the topic, including mine! Your own intuition should be worth more than other people’s advice, so start gaining experience to get intuition in the first place.”

Pacman © Andriy Borovkov
Pacman © Andriy Borovkov

Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition

Every year we invite astrophotographers from around the world to send us their best images as part of the Royal Observatory’s Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. These pictures capture all manner of celestial spectacles: moons, stars, planets, galaxies, nebulae and some of the great astronomical events of the last year. 

We award prizes in eight different themed categories, as well as our Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for entrants under the age of 16. We also give two special prizes: the Robotic Scope prize and the Sir Patrick Moore Prize for Best Newcomer. 

Our judges give their tips on how you can get involved:

View winning images from over the past ten years